Albuquerque Public Schools

Albuquerque Public Schools Case Study

 Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), located in the middle of New Mexico, has 13,000 teachers in 140 schools, and serves more than 87,000 students.  APS is a big proponent of technology, using it to both stimulate learning and prepare students for higher education.  An area where APS using technology is with online and blended courses.  The most visible place where APS works with students is in a blended environment at the district's eCADEMY Virtual High  School. eCADEMY is currently open to freshman, sophomores and juniors selected through a lottery. The school offers a "blended model" of online coursework and face-to-face instruction under the supervision of full-time teachers. The school runs on 12-week trimesters and all assignments must be completed within the 12 weeks. Typically, lectures are held online, with communication available between students and their teachers and peers.1 Students set their own schedules, choosing from different days and times to complete in-person coursework.  Hands-on instruction, such as science labs, requires students to show up for collaborative work.  Students also have to take final exams in person.

Students have access to their teachers via text and message boards. As eCADEMY classes are teacher-paced, students won't get too far ahead or behind.  Students whose grades fall below 70 percent are required to take classes face-to-face until they get back on track.

In 2012, APS's online courses were approved by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to count toward the core class requirements that potential athletes must meet to practice, play and receive scholarships to NCAA Division I or II colleges or universities.2 The district works consistently to ensure its NCAA status is up-to-date.

APS' online course development began with the creation of a Google site for online course collaboration.  APS saw the need to develop master courses to coordinate the work individual teachers were doing. The course development process followed the "Plan, Develop, and Review" model with the planning stage starting as a Google document on the shared Google site. Online courses were in demand due to a change in the legislative requirements for graduation. A key feature of the new requirements was students could now satisfy graduation requirements via online courses. Research showed that non-honor students were likely to successfully complete online courses. This growth drove the need for consistency across course development and the idea of measuring the quality of their online courses.

Quality Matters and APS 

APS has worked with Quality Matters (QM) since 2011 to ensure its online courses are of high quality. QM interviewed Brian Kennedy and Cristina Padilla, who are the instructional technology group leaders in the course development process at APS. Both Brian and Cristina have completed the K-12 Applying the QM Secondary Rubric (K-12 APP) workshop, QM's flagship course providing an overview, history of and use of the K-12 Secondary Rubric. Cristina  has also taken the K-12 Reviewer Course (K-12RC), which was designed to prepare experienced online course developers and teachers to become Quality Matters Certified K-12 Course Reviewers. Cristina also serves as the APS' QM Coordinator, its School Representative to QM. The APS Course development team presented on the work they have done with QM at the Southwest Regional Conference April 2014.

How does APS currently use QM?

APS is currently using the K-12 Secondary Rubric to guide the development of online courses that will eventually become district master courses. The K-12 Secondary Rubric has made it possible for APS to establish clear expectations about what a quality course can and should be. Additionally, the K-12 Secondary Rubric is driving the creation of content, the revision of existing resources and the ongoing professional development initiative for teachers and staff involved in the process. The course development teams have been exposed to continuous improvement and ongoing learning through the professional development provided by QM including the K12 APP and other benefits like reduced costs for attendance at QM conferences. APS has already developed six courses and is looking to develop six more courses in fall 2014.

How has QM been received by teachers?

Teachers exposed to the K-12 Secondary Rubric have been more engaged in the course development process. They see the Rubric as an excellent resource guide development and experience in online teaching. A key element in growing the number of people involved in developing online courses was moving away from isolation towrd sharing and collaboration. SPA fostered an environment in which sharing came naturally. Typically, high school teachers are used to working alone but the collaboration involved in the course development process offered great results and growth via professional development for contributors. Additionally the K-12 Secondary Rubric became a resource for use in creating a district rubric to evaluate the quality of face-to-face courses. QM-trained teachers see how the Rubric can guide the creation of quality online courses and often make suggestions and propose guidelines to continue developing these courses collaboratively.

What are the key elements in promoting QM adoption among teachers?

Three key elements in getting teachers to learn and use QM were:

  1. Having a plan for adoption of the Rubric to guide the process of developing quality online courses
  2. Introducing the Rubric to staff, resource teachers and content experts prior to developing quality online Master Courses
  3. Offering QM training (three-week course) and ongoing professional development

With these elements in place, it has been easier to get buy-in from teachers. APS also chose it initial participants carefully. They sought teachers and staff who were willing and able to work collaboratively and were excited about taking their course online.

What professional development have your teachers taken?

The team at APS includes instructional designers, resource teachers and subject matter experts who have been working together to create these courses. Instructional designers and resource teachers completed the K-12 APP, a three week online course. Currently, there are 11 people, including teachers, who have been trained by QM. Additionally, one member of APS's instructional design team is a QM Reviewer.

What costs are involved?

There are costs for the QM training and workbooks and in teacher time to write and revise courses. There can be costs in scheduling for substitutes when teachers need to leave their classes to focus on development of these new courses.  Finally, there is a cost in terms of teacher time to review developed courses.

What was your biggest challenge in using or implementing QM?

As with many projects conducted in conjunction with outside organizations, including non-profits, there are limited financial resources available to ensure every participant gets trained. Another challenge has been developing a path for district-level professional development and ensuring all courses are consistent and reviewed. APS wants to create both a short-and long-term plan toward student achievement and use that plan to determine how to include online and blended courses.

An overarching challenge in the district has been incorporating Common Core State Standards (CCSS) into the curriculum at the same time teachers are learning to use the K-12 Secondary Rubric. Finally, teachers are in the process of learning how to change their teaching to meet CCSS and the new teacher evaluation system, as well as learning about NCAA requirements while also learning best practices for online learning through the Rubric. That's a lot to ask of any teacher in a one-or two-year time frame.

What is next for your district and Quality Matters?

APS would like to get as many teachers, staff and resource teachers involved in the creation and delivery of online courses trained in the K-12APP. There is a need to create a long-term plan for professional development and revision of online courses. We also want to maintain funding for professional development and attendance at conferences and workshops throughout the year.

APS is not currently considering having its courses formally reviewed by QM. This could come later in the process. At this time APS is focused on the development of online/blended courses it will review internally with two people (a content expert and an instructional designer, each of whom will have completed the K-12 APP). These reviews are expected to start sometime in May 2014.